Install a Goose Tub for Conservation

One of the simplest ways to give back to waterfowl is to build and install a goose tub. The concept is simple… Locate a pond or waterway in an area that Canada Geese use, and request permission to install the tub.

Check out your backyard or garage for items that can be of use. Required materials include a tub or bucket, post and mounting bracket or hardware. If you have a wooden fence post or 4×4, thats great. Another possibility is PVC pipe or even metal post/pipe. I have found that PVC is cheaper to buy that wood posts, but check Craigslist.

Next you need a bucket or wash tub. I have used plastic barrels cut in half, old metal wash tubs found in ditches, and those plastic livestock feed buckets. Used is fine but be sure to wash them out good if any chemicals were stored in the bucket. Be sure that if the tub is more than six or eight inches tall, to cut out a exit so the young gooslings can easily exit the nest site when that time comes.

Then you will have to figure out how you will mount the tub onto the post. If using a wooden post, nail a piece of plywood to the top and nail or bolt the tub to that. I used a section of PVC pipe, and bought a cheap tiolet flange at the hardware store for about $3. Some bolts and washers attached the tub to the flange, and I simply slid the flange inside the PVC pipe, but I use a screw to attach the flange to the PVC pipe so that strong wind wouldn’t seperate the two.

Next, I climbed into my Drake waders and hauled my project into knee deep water, sinking it as far as I could manually. Then I waded back to the bank, grabbed my sledge hammer and pounded the creation another foot or two into the mud.

All that was left to do was place some hay or straw inside. I have found that installing the tubs in early March is best. It gives resident geese time to get comfortable with their future nesting site. This is a fun project for kids, Scouts, or 4H clubs also. There is very little cost or effort involved but the conservation benefit can be great! Geese readily accept these tubs and have a very high success rate since the tub method listed is quite “predator proof”.


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Fishing the Everglades in Winter

What better way to warm up this winter than to migrate south to the Florida Everglades for some sensational warm water fishing ! There is no need to deal with shoveling snow or icy roads, when the Snook, Tarpon, and Redfish await you.

Everglade City is just a mere hour and a half drive from Miami, and therein lays the winter oasis of shallow, saltwater angling, the Everglades. Here Mangroves,Margaritas, shorts and sunglasses are the norm, as well as sport fishing for a half dozen or more species of saltwater fish. In the backwaters there are few landmarks to navigate by,as well as a daily five foot tide variation that can leave you stranded on dry ground. Thus the use of a seasoned guide is recommended when fishing the ‘Glades.

Jim Conley has operated in these brackish waters for decades, honing his craft of putting clients on plentiful fish to perfection. Jim’s , hosts anglers fishing for the typical shallow water prizes such as Snook, Tarpon, and Redfish yearly. Yet he admits that Sea Trout and Mackerel fishing can be grand during the winter months. Conley offers both day trips as well as a three day package but he advises that weather patterns during the colder months can be tricky. Cold fronts formed by northern wind blow water out of the fishing areas thus restricting access to prime spots. Additionally these sub-tropical fish are very susceptible to the cold, so dramatic temperature swings can shut them off or cause the fish to relocate to warmer regions.

Conley prides himself on placing his clients in the best possible situation to catch fish on light tackle. He and his guide run twenty one foot boots designed to access the extreme shallows of the ‘Glades. Whether it is fly fishing, light spinning or casting, Jim is proficient at accommodating his anglers. Typically anglers are fishing in three foot of tantic colored water using tackle similar to freshwater Bass fishing so most anglers will be accustomed to the equipment.

Jim rarely feels the need to utilize live bait instead preferring to cast soft plastic and plug type lures. His most versatile bait is a soft plastic minnow he designed, the Conley Grub which is produced by Culprit/Riptide Lures. Conley normally rigs it on a 3/8 ounce screw lock jig head in order to allow long distance casting to visibly feeding fish. Long casts and rapid retrieves are the key to consistently catching fish with the Conley Grub.

Early winter conditions will allow anglers to find plenty of Tarpon,Snook and Redfish still cruising the Mangroves. As the  water cools below seventy those fish move out of the “shallows” and toward the slightly deeper mudflats. Here they saddle up to the darker color bottom which absorbs more sunlight and warms the water temperatures. Jim still fishing for them but it is more critical to know their favorite haunts during these periods.

As mentioned earlier, once the water cools from the shorter daylight and winter cold fronts, some of the less celebrated fish can pick up the slack. Sea Trout and Mackerel as well as others rarely leave the shallows and offer brisk action as well as powerful topwater strikes that can excite any angler. Jim regularly catches spunky Trout up to six pounds which is a handful on light tackle.

Keep in mind that spring arrives in the Everglades much earlier than elsewhere in the U.S. Temperatures begin to rise in February thus signals the beginning of the migration back into the shallows. Celebrated fish like the Tarpon and Snook begin to make their way into the rivers where they will spend much of the year. February and March can be outstanding months for Conley. The days get warmer and longer heating the water until it is teeming with hungry fish. Some of the best fishing of the entire year can occur during these months quipped Conley.

As you can see there is no reason to linger at home amid the snow drifts, plummeting temperatures and frozen tundra. Utilize those frequent flyer miles and head south to the Everglades. A few bites and your mood will quickly elevate. Give Jim Conley a call and enjoy your winter for once!

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Train like you hunt

There is an old coach’s adage that refers to practicing like you want to play. Much the same can be said for dog training. Always practice or train how you want your dog to re-act in a hunting scenario. Many of us (myself included) occasionally take a short cut or allow our dogs to cheat on a task. Quite often we realize this later down the line when the dog picks up that bad behavior. Thus with hunting season on our doorstep I consulted my friend and local dog trainer, Gordy Weigel, of Bur Oak Retrievers, in Camden Point, Missouri.

Gordy is a duck hunter first and foremost, having morphed into a dog trainer somewhere in the past couple of decades. Having owned and trained dozens of retrievers for other hunters, he has a pretty good definition of what a hunting retriever should be. Dogs that come through the doors of Bur Oak Retrievers, run the gambit of brand new puppies to experienced dogs, all the way up to champion hunt test dogs. Yet no matter what stage the dog may be at, it can always use a tune up!

Obviously the first issue that Gordy concerns himself with when a new dog arrives is the health and condition of the dog itself. Its in the best interest of the owner to keep a working dog in good shape. Proper food and conditioning are critical and can prevent days or weeks of lost time at the trainer. Additionally Gordy prefers that the owner have a realistic idea of what he/she wants from the dog and what the dog is capable of in the time frame available. It goes without saying that Weigel nor most trainers can work a miracle in just a couple weeks. Keep in mind that some trainers such a Gordy take hunting season off from their training regiment so make contact and confirm the time frame your dog will be at the trainer’s,  or do things yourself.

Since the basis of the story deals with preparing for hunting season we have asked Gordy questions about experienced dogs, and we will stay away from puppies.

“First and foremost, with every dog that comes through my kennel door,” states Weigel, “I check their force fetching technique.” He takes notice of whether the dog is dropping dummies, hard mouthing them, or delivering to hand. Any issue with be dealt with quickly and promptly before moving to the next step.

“Collar conditioning,” he added, ” is another overlooked issue.” If the dog has been trained and properly conditioned to an electronic collar, our trainer will fit one to the dog and confirm what tolerance the dog has for it. Many dogs simply just require a subtle reminder and rarely need to have the collar utilized. Additionally having the “E” collar on a dog allows the trainer to correct behavior immediately and at long distance.

As we stated in the title, it is best to train like you hunt. If at all possible have your trainer shoot live birds over your dog. If that is not possible, use frozen birds from the previous season or from a bird farm to help the dog make the jump from training dummies to the real thing! Nothing comes close to exciting a dog than the scent of a real bird. Hunters doing their own training can often purchase or trap pigeons for this practice if ducks or game birds can’t be found.

Once again, simulating a real hunting scenario is a great starting point for pre-season tune ups. Place the live or dead bird in a launcher and have a hunting partner fire a shotgun if you happen to have your hands full running the dog. Remember that experienced dogs will key off the sight of the gun barrel as well visually locking in on the noise of the launched bird and then take their “line”.

Gordy and our crew like to recreate a hunting blind as much as possible. Since I hunt predominately in dry fields, I practice sending my dog, Vito, from the prone or “down” position. Many times I run my dog from his actual hunting blind to condition him to that also. We try and make everything as realistic as possible. Fire blanks or live ammo periodically to accustom dogs to actual gunfire and use a popper whenever possible during other training as well.

Likewise, Gordy, trains dogs from platforms and in various water conditions for those hunters that require those situations. I re-introduce my dog to my Four Rivers Layout Boat every summer when the water is warm and easy to deal with for both of us. Keep in mind that although a dog may have hunted from a boat or tree stand or similar platform, any new situation can be stressful for him so allow them a acclimation period preferably ahead of time. Make sure that the dog has good manner if he will be riding in a boat or vehicle such as a Gator or ATV. Nothing gets you invited back on a hunt quicker than owning a well trained retriever and the opposite is also true when your dog is a pain in the blind!


Gordy has also found that some thick headed dogs don’t respond to a heavy hand but will accept praise of treats to help them accomplish goals. Nothing works better or is more nutritious than a Pegetable dog snack. In fact most dog will do just about any task for one! Ample water and shade is also critical as high temps can quickly overcome a working dog.

Put a bit of thought into your next training session as hunting season gets closer. Try to simulate whatever task or conditions you expect to be in and duplicate those. Doing so gets the dog in shape both physically and mentally, at a faster rate than just running typical drills. Remember to train like you hunt and with patience and time your dog will perform like a true hunting retriever and pal.

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CALL NOTES: Tim Grounds Half Breed Dhampir

Arguably the Half Breed by Tim Grounds Calls is one of the first truly successful short reed goose calls to hit the market. This call has been around for decades and has been responsible for winning several national championships on stage and has killed literally thousands of limits of geese in the field and marsh.

Albeit the reputation that the Tim Grounds Original Half Breed has is tremendous, it’s spawn the Half Breed Dhampir, is yet to be discovered by the masses. I was curious about the name of the new version and discovered via Wikipedia, it refers to “any hybrid of one human and one vampire parent; they are half breeds…” Thus in layman’s terms a hybrid half breed; aptly named! I am told that Hunter Grounds and a friend came to this discovery (and title) after integrating Tim Grounds Triple Crown(TC) goose call guts into an original Half Breed goose call. The resulting sound produced caused imminent death to geese and thus the name and new call were born.

Prior to discussing the new  by Tim Grounds, lets retrace the history of the Original Half Breed. Tim gave me the condensed version and admitted that he shared the credit of this legendary call with Keith and Charlie Hess. Development started after Tim won the National Championship with his Guide’s Best flute call in 1986. He came into contact with Hess, who advised him that with some subtle changes to the Tim Grounds Guide’s Best he could build a short reed call that could do it all. Grounds credits Hess with giving him the concept and showing him how to get the most from the call. The result was an innovative call that helped to bring the short reed type goose call to the forefront of both competition calling and hunting.

The original Half Breed consists of an ABS molded body paired with the flute style guts seen in the Guide’s Best call. This is a simple straight forward looking design with no etching or engraving. Callers will notice that the reeds are set about an inch out from the edge of the mouthpiece. Tim advised that his Half Breed goose call “takes the air quicker than any other call” simply due to this design. Obviously some of the unique sound qualities can be attributed to the close proximity of the mouth to the reeds, giving it as Tim says,”full sound effects”.

Measuring five inches long, the Tim Grounds Half Breed is a light weight, but small and dynamic goose call. Personally I have yet to hear a louder, more piercing sound than what is produced from the Original Half Breed. If hunters are searching for a superb open country call or a goose call to reach out and invite those high migrating geese down into the decoy spread, then there is no better instrument than the Tim Grounds Half Breed call! Much like a match grade bullet, the Half Breed bucks the wind and carries it’s pitch farther and truer than any other call I have heard. In order to reach the maximum distance or when calling in strong winds, Tim recommends blowing the call straight at the geese to decrease sound deflection and obtain the farthest carrying capacity.

The Dhampir as stated above is paired with the famous Triple Crown gut system. Most contest callers utilize these illustrious guts in their own calls and recently droves of hunters have purchased various Grounds calls utilizing these guts or converted their own goose calls to run on the TC system. A quick check of the record books will reveal multiple wins by Kelley Powers and Hunter Grounds as well as several other contest callers with the Tim Grounds Triple Crown guts in various call setups.

With Kelley Powers proving feedback, Tim took a good idea (broke in guts) and through trial and error devised a gut system that would create the sounds emitted from a reed slapping on a well worn gut but without the ”breaking in” period. I am told it would take literally hundreds of hours to achieve this “worn in” groove yet Tim has conceived a method of creating it in a molded form. The finished product is such that a novice caller can move up the ladder of calling skills much faster. Likewise, the competitive caller can re-create every sound of a live goose and do so immediately with the TC guts that will slip into just about any call.

Now, getting back to the Dhampir, Tim and Hunter mentioned that by simply changing the internal components of the Half Breed to the Triple Crown they accomplished a deeper sounding call that is truly amazing in the goose pit or marsh. In fact, Hunter won the 2011 World Live Goose Calling Championship contests blowing the Dhampir call, proving the simple looking call is deadly in the field or on stage. A pretty ausbitous feat for the inaugrual year of the Grounds Half Breed Dhampir!

What I find amazing is that a customer can send Tim an Original Half Breed purchased twenty or more years ago for an upgrade to Half Breed Dhampir status with no remanufacturing. Likewise the conversion can be done at home also, but the customer must be able to tune his own call.Be advised that due to high demand, Grounds sells no more than two sets of Triple Crown guts to anyone, and refuses to wholesale them.

In this culture where “retro” is cool and the term “throwback” is the new catch phrase, nothing is cooler than the Tim Grounds Half Breed Dhampir.  Same “old” look but with a totally new “sound” that’s deadly on geese! Give it a try or just convert your current Grounds Half Breed. You’ll see why this call is Hunter and Tim’s favorite hunting call and one is sure to become another legend !

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Fire Damage is Preventable!

Most of us have grown up with the legend of Smokey the Bear and his slogan of “Only you can prevent forest fires” . Well its never been more critical in the central United States than this year, as we endure a record setting drought.

Recently our neighbor’s pasture and some of our fence line were destroyed by carelessness. Its a waste of property, a loss of income, constitutes a very real danger to homes and fires are a tremendous waste of resources such a water and fire department personnel.

This particular fire destroyed acres of agricultural land, took six fire department trucks and a dozen or more men, several hours to extinguish. Let’s consider what the cost of that was in addition to the loss of valuable water in a record setting heat wave.

Not only will livestock suffer but wildlife will too. Deer often feed  and bed in this field and quail have been seen browsing the edges in the morning dawn. Additionally, a decade or more of tree growth was lost on the fence line. Even when new trees are planted in the spring it will take years to grow to maturity.

As you can see, just a moment of carelessness caused this damage. Currently we have no end in sight for this drought but just a bit of precaution can save millions in dollars. Smokers need to ensure that their cigarette butts are completely extinguished. The best way to do this is to drop the “butt” in a bucket of water and never flick them out the window of a moving vehicle.

Just as important, is to dis-continue burning trash, which is how this fire began. Bag trash up and place it on the curb or take it into town, or dispose of trash in alternate ways. When in doubt consult your local fire department prior to lighting any fire(s)!

Remember – only you can prevent forest,range, or grass fires!


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Beating the Heat

Trying to avoid succumbing to the furnace like temperatures that we have enduring this summer, I try to find methods of staying cool and having some fun. Duck hunting may still be months away, and while it does help to think about the cooler days ahead we have work to do in the meantime.

Thus the latest training day for man and beast was set forth. This past season was the first for my Lab, Vito. Unfortunately it was a difficult time as we harbored few ducks or geese and he got very little experience. Likewise, my human protege never made it out to the duck marsh with me which got me thinking…

What better way to spend a hot summer day than to hitch up the trailer with the Four Rivers Layout Boats and head to the lake. This would give both girl and beast a chance to get acquainted with our favorite waterfowl vessel.

The trick was to get both calmed down as they were busting at the seams when we reached the boat ramp! One immediately notices the steadiness of these boats when climbing aboard. There is no rocking or pitching from side to side like in a canoe. Novices appreciate this fact and become comfortable in seconds. Once I climbed aboard, my daughter Kylee jumped in and seconds later Vito found his perch.

The Refuge Runner as well as the new EBADS boat, have a dog platform on the stern. Do not be concerned as there is plenty of room for even an extra large dog such as mine and having an additional eighty or ninety pounds made no difference in the stability or profile of the boat. Four Rivers layout boats are wide for maximum stability and they are packed with floatation foam making them nearly impossible to overturn on the water.

I recommend hunters utilize the summer months to accustom their new dogs with whatever boat the decide to take hunting. Face it not all dogs find boats agreeable and it may take some coaxing to get them aboard. Its best not to wait until the dawn of the hunt to test this theory!

Ensure that whatever means of propulsion you plan to use is also on the boat and that the retriever gets a chance to encounter that as well. A “mud motor” may produce a unique noise that could spook your dog if he or she is not conditioned to that. I normally use a push pole, paddle or trolling motor on my Four Rivers Boats so that is what we brought along.

Additionally be sure to get in some retrieves from the boat as well. Casting off the boat’s dog platform is rock solid but again its something the dog may need to be coaxed into trying. Whats more, climbing aboard can be something special for dog and owner, so get plenty of repetitions so it becomes a normal feat. I added some no slip rubber traction strips to help my dog climb aboard easier.

No one seems to mind getting splashed or drenched when the conditions are near one hundred so this is a perfect time to get the maiden vouyage out of the way for novices whether they be man, woman or canine. Practice good boating safety if entering deep or swift water by wearing life jackets.

Continue your drills and regular trips to the water with both canine and kids if possible. Within minutes my Lab “found” his place and became comfortable enough to layout and stay calm. I have no doubt he will be well acclimated to the vessel come November!

Although we hunt from two of the Refuge Runners, those hunters who have need for mud motors or large outboards really need to take a close look at the new EBADS boat from Four Rivers. It was designed specifically for use with a high output motor and is built to withstand the force of charging over dikes, logs, or through ice. We will showcase video footage of this boat shortly!

Getting the layout boat into the water in summer is also the perfect time to locate and fix any damaged items. Ensure the drain plug fits tight and keeps the interior dry. If lights are needed, test, replace or re-wire them. Check your state to ensure what safety items are needed and stock those on board. Most states require a fire extinguisher is the boat is equipped with a gas engine. Identification numbers may also be required so check local regs. Is the camouflage still good? If not make a note to replace the doors or covers and add more grass or vegetation if need be prior to fall.


Just a few hours this summer will pay dividends this fall when the season rolls in. Until then, have fun and stay cool!

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Catfish; The Official King of Summer

No doubt if you really want to catch a bunch of freshwater fish that will cooperate in the heat of summer, then it’s Catfish you need to target. They are readily available in nearly every body of water in North America. Catfish are generally not that difficult to catch and there is no better or quicker way to stock your freezer with some tremendous fillets!
To break it down, there are three main species of Catfish in the U.S.
Channels are the most commonly found, then Flatheads and of course Blue Catfish. In my opinion, the Flathead is the most aggressive of all Cats. While the Channels and Blues can be caught on cut bait, prepared baits, or similar concoctions the Flathead is a true predator. He meals consist only of live bait, although they
can be caught on lures that resemble bait fish or crawdads.
Catfish can be caught in any hour of the day but once the sun goes down they do become more active. Fishing at night can be a lonely endeavor but it does allow an angler to get away from the crowds and even have a lake near a large city to themselves. What’s more, there are few fish swimming in freshwater that will grow to the portions a big Flathead or Blue Catfish is capable of.
One of the most productive methods of catching Catfish is by set line. Anglers either attach a stout cord to a tree, or stationary object and drop the baited hook(s) into the water. These methods are not legal everywhere so be sure to check local regulations.
My procedure is to locate some bait prior to hitting the lake or river
where I hope to set lines. Often my family will accompany me to help catch bait. When possible we like to use live sunfish, which themselves are a blast to catch. Typically, we use small Crappie jigs such as the Tassel Tail grub by Culprit. Once a couple dozens are swimming in the bait tank, it is time to head out for ‘Cats.
In a pinch, anglers can buy goldfish, large minnows, crawfish, or utilize some of the many store bought baits. Just about anything will catch Channels under the right conditions including liver, hot dogs, cheese, worms, you name it . Blues love a freshly cut bait like Asian Carp, Shad, or whatever can be found in the area.
Recently my fishing buddy had several Salmon fillets go bad when the electricity went out in his home for a day. The Salmon thawed enough that he didn’t feel it was fit to consume, but He was smart enough to realize it would catch fish. In fact, the oil in the flesh seeped out leaving a vapor trail in the water for Cats to follow. The skin was left on one side of the Salmon fillet, which helped it stay on the hook very well.
When setting a limb line or trot line, I like to utilize a circle hook
whenever possible. The natural action of the fish swimming away with the bait will pull the circle hook right into his jaw, hooking it nearly every time! If that fish is left to its own; it will often pull and jerk at the hook thus securing it so much better. Select your hook size in relation to the size of bait you will be fishing with. I rarely use less than a 4/0 hook and sometimes go as large as an 8/0 circle for those bigger sunfish.
Not every stretch of river or lake is equal. In fact some areas can be void of Catfish it seems while similar spots nearby may be loaded. I rarely spend much time in a slow producing spot. An hour or two is plenty. Keep moving until you find an area with active fish.
While many seasoned anglers employ big trot lines with a dozen or more hooks, I prefer to use several shorter lines with less hooks on each, but allowing me to fish several spots. Most states require your set lines to be marked and run daily or taken down. It is unethical to leave a line out with hooks on it if you do not plan on checking it at least daily. Fish and animals can become caught and fouled leaving wanton waste which is a ticketable offense.
Likewise, it is mandatory to label your lines. I use those address label that seem to come weekly in the mail from various charities. I simply put a piece of duct tape on my main line and affix an address label to that.
Normally, I like to set my line at dusk with fresh bait and check them no later than daybreak. If time allows, I will re-bait them and allow them to “soak” for a bit while checking other lines. Dawn is a great time to catch more Catfish and we often stay out until mid morning if the fish cooperate.
Once summer temps arrive I like to fill my livewell or large cooler with ice. The water temp is often in the eighties or higher and placing the caught fish on ice really helps keep them fresh and tasty.
Never underestimate the power of these beasts. Flatheads and Blues can reach the century mark in weight so they can do some damage to equipment. If you are in an area that is home to big Cats up grade your gear. Use three hundred pound main line tied to stout objects. Keep your hooks sharp and go to premium heavy wire and bigger sizes when possible. It’s also helpful to have a second person in the boat when running lines. That person can net big fish, help control theboat in windy conditions or bait and re-bait hooks while you move along the water.
Just recently I had set my lines out at dark by myself. Luckily, my fishing partner and uncle was going along in the morning to help check lines. After finding several good keeper Channels and one good Flathead we arrived at my last spot. At a big logjam, I had tied one end of a trotline while running the far end out away from the debris pile. I anchored the far end with an eight pound dumbbell
and it was baited with feisty sunfish. Upon our arrival I noticed
the trotline seemed to be headed back toward the logjam instead of the original direction. As we approached the end of the mainline I began to pull up and at that exact time he pulled back down with enough force to jerk me to my knees! “Get the net,” I yelled to my partner as the fish threw water everywhere and fought like Mike Tyson! Somehow in the tight confines of the logjam we boated the behemoth which later tipped the scales at 34 pounds!
Nothing attracts kids, neighbors, cameras, and bewildered faces like a big, old, mean looking Catfish. Of course it only takes two words, “Fish Fry” to get the party started. Then you become the unofficial king of summer…
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Spring = Crappie !

Two things that generally excite outdoorsmen and women in spring are the Crappie fishing and turkey hunting. The turkeys treated us poorly this year but that is another tale better left for another day…

Since the sudden onset of spring this year we have had unseasonable warm weather earlier than most humans can remember. At writing, we have eighty degree water in the first week of May! One would have thought the fishing would be fabulous but it has been the typical up and down spring as far as we have found here in KC.

Recently, we have had those rare days when every fish is twelve inches or bigger and then a day or two later the fish size has shrunk. There has only been one true constant and that is the fact that all our fish have come on one fishing lure (we don’t use bait for Crappie). If it were not for the sake of the Culprit Tassel Tail grub, things might have been even more desperate.

Simply utilizing a Tassel Tail grub on a 1/16 ounce jig head and either swum slowly or fished vertically, has been the key to our success. This year has produced more Crappie over 12 inches than any previous spring! Utilizing the proper tackle, more experience and paying attention to optimum weather patterns has been critical. Slowly but surely we are stocking the freezer and supplying some of our friends and neighbors with fresh fillets!

Fishing for aggressive fish has been my priority this season. Since we don’t use bait there is no reason to stay put and “wait them out” in my opinion.Merely cover ground and pay attention to details until a pattern is put together. I keep asking myself did those fish come off rocky or dirt banks, brush, stickup or lay-downs?  Also what depth, temperature and color was the water. Typically just a few fish will help an angler put the puzzle together if they pay attention. Recently I even noticed that the Crappie wanted the grub dead still. Thus a slow retrieve with the occasional stop was the trick of the day.

Likewise, should the fishing be good one day then dead the next, its time to try dipping or stealthy dropping the lure in front of the fish that have gone dormant. Its pretty common for spawning fish to shun chasing lures but they will still bite if the bait is presented directly in front of their face. Although dipping isn’t as fun as casting it beats going home empty handed!

Try some new colors as well as a lighter or heavier jighead when the bite suddenly begins to slow. Another trick to jump start the action again is to change the speed of your retrieve. If the fish have quit biting the slow and steady speed, give the reel hell for a few casts and see if that doesn’t entice a few more fish to the boat. Be sure to give a lift and drop retrieve a chance in tough conditions.

Never quit until you have tried every method possible of catching Crappie. Nothing beats a full livewell of fish, so be sure to persevere and often that extra effort will pay off in fillets!


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Building Your Own Turkey Call

Like many other guys I enjoy building or assembling things with my own hands. It’s satisfying to have some input into the construction of an item that you will use yourself. I recently heard about the MAD Box Call Kit from MAD Game Calls. This looked like a neat project that my daughter, who loves to craft, and I could do together and hopefully put to use this spring.

Once I received the kit in the mail, we excitedly opened it up and promptly lost the spring while examining the parts. A quick trip to the local hardware store was in order, and there we located a replacement. MAD has pre-cut all parts and these parts are all straight forward, and easy to assemble with the instructions. All the hunter needs is wood glue which is not included.

My daughter, Kylee, and I glued the parts together in less than five minutes. Once we applied the enclosed rubber bands we allowed the unit to dry for twenty four hours. Then she added a bit of personality to her call with a few stickers and a ”Sharpie”. One light coat of varnish and it was allowed to dry again overnight.

The next day, we inserted the spring between the lid and the box and tightened the screw. A few adjustments on the screw tension while calling and we had completed the construction of a productive box call. Our total time invested was about twenty minutes although there were periods of down time for drying of glue and (optional) varnish.

Once we added some chalk which was included in the kit, this call sounded every bit as good as any box call in my vest! Typical cost is about $15, and it makes a great project for kids and dads to do together. As a matter of fact this would be a great item for Boy Scouts, 4 H Clubs, or church groups. The only thing needed is some wood glue and a few minutes of time. Here is your chance to add any custom features or design work and truly have a “one of a kind” turkey call. For more information and where to find the MAD Box Call Kit, (model MD-380) go to www.

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After suffering through one of the most dismal waterfowl seasons of my career, the end was in sight. January was nearly over, yet there remained one last hurrah; the last weekend of the late Kansas duck segment. One last chance for redemption…

While I sat at home contemplating whether and where to hunt, I received a call from J. Paul Jackson, host of Drake Waterfowl’s Migration Nation TV show. I had the fortune of meeting the amiable host previously, while he and the crew were hunting in Missouri.

It seemed that J. Paul was in a bind. He was en route to Colorado for a hunt and it seemed he needed a Migration Nation member to accompany the Drake TV crew for a hunt in Kansas. Without hesitation I accepted his offer to join the team for the weekend trip.

As a hard core waterfowler, I keep my gear ready to roll on a moments notice. My Drake waders, bibs and 1/4 zip jacket are always in the truck, and I keep licenses current in several states. Although I now reside in Missouri, I am a Kansan and anytime the opportunity presents itself to return there for a hunt it’s quickly set into play. I had already agreed to the journey when J. Paul gave me some news that caused my heart to skip a beat. The Migration Nation crew was going to southeast Kansas and the home of Carter’s Big Island Duck Club!

Now I had hunted nearly every nook and cranny of the Jayhawk state but I had not yet had savored the “greenheads” of the Neosho River bottoms. Of course I had heard and seen footage of hunts at Roy Carter’s place but never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would have the opportunity to hunt at a world class facility such as that. Luckily I have an understanding wife and daughter, who I hastily informed about the trip as I cased my shotgun and prepped my gear for the next day’s journey.

Once on the road with my retriever, Vito, it was a quick, enjoyable road trip to St. Paul, Kansas. Time passes swiftly with the anticipation of a great hunt and I am sure Vito was as restless as me. Just a few hours later we crossed the ancient one lane bridge that passes over the Neosho River and drops into “Carter Country”.  When I exited the truck I immediately ran into David Weldon, the producer and lead videographer for the show. David introduced me to Roy Carter, the owner and proprietor of Carter’s Big Island.

Roy is one of those rare individuals that upon meeting, it seems that you met a lifelong friend. Although we had never met previously I immediately felt at home in Roy’s presence. Just beyond Roy stood a giant among duck callers, Trey Crawford. Three World Championship titles belong to this fella who is now retired from competition and guides at Carter’s operation. It was safe to say that my novice calling would not be needed on this trip!

Not only was I given the rare chance to hunt at the “Big Island” but I would be able to hear a mallard maestro perform his symphony to an audience of nearby ducks. In fact, as we shook hands, dozens of “greenheads” dropped into a little pothole just a few hundred yards from where we stood. There isn’t any better welcome committee than that!

As if things couldn’t get any better, Roy announced that we should all accompany him to the restaurant he owns in town. The Lodge, in St. Paul, is home to hundreds of items representing the history of Carter’s family and the region. Dozens of old photographs of hunters with straps full of “green”, trophy class Whitetail bucks, several different species of ducks, and a turkey or two adorn the wooden walls of The Lodge steakhouse. Upon entry Roy, excuses himself and makes sure all the existing patrons are content and enjoying themselves and their meals.

Once again he joins our group and points out a few of the bucks, explaining who shot it, what the situation was and other interesting tidbits of information from the hunt. I spied a full size tree stump complete with a wood duck peering out from the hollow nook  and another below that at the base. A full size long bearded turkey stands in a corner ready to greet any and all guests.

Outdoorsmen and women of all ages will relish the sights inside the Lodge yet the food I tasted rivaled any steaks in Kansas City. As I savored the rib eye, Roy and Trey discussed the plans for the next morning’s hunt. After an cold brew, I was ready to head to camp to ensure I might be able to get some rest for the hunt.

At the alarms first ring I popped from my bed ready to roll. Quickly  the smell of coffee invited all down to the kitchen and morning rituals began. Roy graciously allowed me to bring along my young dog so I went to prep Vito and gather my gear. Trey and Roy warmed up the utility vehicles or “scooters” as they call them, piling them high with decoys, blind bags, tripods, and gun cases. Once everyone was aboard our entourage headed toward the flooded grain field just beyond Roy’s farm house.

Skim ice had encroached upon the little impoundment but it was no match for the “scooter”. In quick order our crew had the decoys set, hunting locations issued and filming had begun just as the first amber rays of sunlight etched the sky. As Roy and Trey gave introductory statements into the cameras, ducks dutifully dropped in behind their shoulders.

The plan was to exclusively harvest only drakes on this hunt. Of course Roy admitted that any brown mallard wearing jewelry (i.e. a band) would be fair game as well! I readied my shotgun with three round of my favorite Fiocchi ammo and checked the safety. Glancing down I noticed that Vito was laying on his earthen nest but quivering with anxiety. A few calming words and we were both set to hunt.

In short order the ducks returned. Singles and pairs graced our presence, often falling from such heights that they might require oxygen. Trey blew his call at seemingly empty skies, which seconds later revealed a greenhead or two. Routinely ducks passed straining for a glimpse of anything out of the ordinary. Trey’s feed chuckle would greet them and frequently entice them closer.

Steadily the sun rose and likewise did our bird count. Typically arriving in singles and mating pairs, these late season birds required some finesse and careful handling. Trey’s years of experience paid off in spades as more times than nought, he and Roy were able to coax these educated ducks within shotgun range.

With only a thin tree line to conceal five hunters and two cameramen, camo and lack of movement was of the utmost importance. Our camo Drake pullovers and jackets keep the chill away and the face paint that Carter insisted upon was critical in hiding any obvious reflective skin. We kept head and hand movement to a minimum and had constructed great “hides” for the cameramen, giving them optimal vision yet limited visibility from the front and above.

In a gentleman like manner, our group took turns shooting at greenheads. Once a mallard appeared in the hole, Roy would call out a shooter and give them the stage. Fortunately for me, my aim was relatively true and over the course of the day I filled my limit as did everyone else. What’s more I was able to handle my somewhat raw talented retriever during the hunt. Vito did a fair job for such an inexperienced dog. For the most part he kept calm and quiet and didn’t break or spook any ducks which is all I could ask for. Watching him  track the incoming ducks was very entertaining as he kept his eyes focused on the skies as much or more so than any of the hunters. Rarely did a duck arrive that he didn’t observe!

Eventually we culminated our limit, and packed up the gear. With the arrival of the “scooters” we stowed the multiple items and began to climb aboard for the quick cruise to the house. As we pulled away I threw out a quick thanks to God for such a magnificent hunt. Late season or not, we never lost a cripple nor did we have anything but perfect conditions for hunting and hopefully it was all captured on film for posterity!

That night, after slices of pizza were handed around, it was determined that in the morning, on the last day of the Kansas season, we would hit the timber. As Roy mentioned timber hunt, a blissful feeling came over me. I had only hunted timber once previously and it is a sight to behold when things come together and ducks work properly. It was apparent that Roy and Trey felt that same giddiness as the mood definitely got joyful and light.

Once more the next morning found us filling our mugs with coffee, and determining what gear was needed. Standing is waist deep cold water can be cruel and unmerciful. Thus I was thankful for my Drake LST waders since I (and the entire crew) remained warm and dry throughout the hunt. Good gear can be critical on any hunt, yet it is paramount late in the year when temps get low and birds get wise.

Once we exited the scooters, Roy explained that we would be positioning a couple dozens decoys behind us on a high and dry region, while here and there in front of us would rest another dozen or so dekes. As before, Carter and Crawford strung out a “jerk cord” which employed three or four decoys tied to a string. As approaching ducks became visible, either Trey or Roy would give the contraption a hand and create visible movement on the water that is prominent especially to overhead ducks.

Throughout the course of the day, the jerkcord became very significant as many of the ducks attempted to land in it’s wake. Still, it would be difficult to judge which was more influential, the jerk cord or the quick, loud volume of a three time World Champion’s duck call! Either way, I felt fortunate as did the other hunters to be in this situation.

Gradually, strands of red sunlight etched through the branches, giving way to legal shooting hours. A trio of Fiocchi’s best shells found their way into my twelve gauge then I hung it on a tree limb and gathered my camera for a few shots. As if on cue, a squadron of mallards blazed through our spread at what seemed like Mach 1. Unique and exhilarating, every duck hunter knows that distinctive sound of air rushing off a duck’s wing and body and I doubt anyone ever tires of hearing it.

In the next few hours we heard ducks buzz in, quietly settle in through the canopy, and likewise had them circle numerous times prior to deciding to join their brethren. I couldn’t decide which method of approach I preferred the mallards to take…

Jake, a young hunter in the group started us off, literally with a bang. His shotgun struck green several times allowing us to “get on the board” and then he shared the wealth with his father and the rest of our group.

Although not as steady a flight day as the day prior, we still enjoyed a prominent display of airborne acrobatic skill from the ducks as they lit in among the trees. Likewise, calling is never more important than when hunting timber. I believe sheer volume can play a role in the trees and Trey was like a veteran auctioneer continually addressing the crowd. Between the jerkcord and call he was able to direct the ducks into the proper zone allowing us ample time for shots.

Four hours later, our group had several heavy stringers of ducks including a prestine Pintail. Just short of a limit for the entire party, it was none the less, one of those hunts when quality makes up for quanity. As I mentioned previously, there is just something special about hunting in flooded timber and its a rarity in Kansas!

As we collected decoys, stowed shotguns and snapped photos, it was  only fitting that small groups of mallards drifted into sight. Much like a waterfowl print, it was the perfect end to a perfect trip. As I shook hands with Trey and Roy and thanked them for the ideal hunt, I couldn’t help but think of how better to end the season than at Carter’s Big Island and a strap full of mallards!


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